On wineskins, graves, garlic, leeks and onions

When a new work is started, the newness brings with it a level of discomfort. We often refer to the old system as tried-and-true, even if the results were less than optimal. The danger is that the new work will be hobbled by those who are determined to force the new work into the old pattern. I have seen this tendency in industry and I’ve seen it in the church.

In Exodus 14:11, shortly after the Israelites left Egypt, it appeared that the Egyptians would wipe them out (discomforting thought). In response, the Israelites cried to Moses “were there no graves in Egypt?”, the assumption being that that death was immanent and that by staying in Egypt they would have avoided that death. They preferred the relative safety of the old way even though it included slavery.

Later on in the Exodus story, the Israelites longed for the “leeks, onions and garlic” that they had in Egypt (Numbers 11:5). During the insecurity of pursuing the new way, it is easy to distort the memory of the wold way an make it seem better than it was. God offers them freedom (with some risk and difficulty) and they prefer slavery.

Jesus spoke against the desire for the old when he warned us against putting new wine into old wineskins (Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22 and Luke 5:37). We should not try to force a new work into an old pattern.

I have been involved in church plants and the church I currently attend was founded somewhere around 13 years ago. I observe in myself and others a tendency to want to bring pieces of previous church experience into the new church. While this is not all bad, a dogged expectation that the new church will provide a similar experience to the previous church experience can be a source of irritation and can even lead to open hostility.

Should we learn from previous experience and continue the pieces of that experience that work well? Yes! If there are methods that are effective, they should be continued. At the same time, we need to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit which may take us in new directions. Learn from the past, but don’t be handcuffed by it.

It is also important to choose your battles wisely. It is one thing to argue for a discipleship method that worked well. It is entirely different to argue over a music style, dress code or other preference issue. The methods can be measured and evaluated. With some issues there is no means of evaluating them and it comes down to personal preference.

The point of this is to ask that we all be wary about prefacing a comment or suggestion with, “At my old church . . . .” There may be good ideas coming out of that experience, but a determination to stick with that experience may cause you to miss out on something even better. The words of James 1:19 come to mind:

But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

What do you think?

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Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.
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About Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.


  1. texasenergy404 says:

    Sounds great. Good advice. But we must always be careful because the devil didn’t deceive 1/3 of angels many times smarter then you and I and a perfect couple who never sinned by being obvious. We have a sinful nature that naturally wants to believe lies Jer 17:9 We need to cling to Jesus and the word of God. To the law and the testimony if they speak not according to this there is no light in them. Isaiah 8:20 The church shouldn’t conform to the times it should conform to Jesus Christ. On this rock I will build my church. Matt 16:18 The rock is Jesus, Jesus also says He is truth John 14:6 So if the church is founded on Jesus and Jesus is truth we have to be founded on the word of God and truth, not popular customs and changing times forsaking the landmarks God has set in the bible. Proverbs 22:28 There can be no compromise for truth for peace. Jesus never compromised an inch for peace but He did everything in love even his rebukes to the Pharisee’s. You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. John 8:32. I agree completely we should do everything in love and seek peace, being led by the Holy Spirit not feelings and emotions. Zach 4:6 But Jesus and most of the disciples stuck unswervingly to the truth and it got most of them killed. So the truth is not nor ever will be popular….So we need to be careful when we cast away the old way of doing things that we don’t throw truth and biblical landmarks of doctrine out with the wind of change. There is a deeper spiritual application to the new wine in old skins as well. What does wine represent in the bible? Wine or grape juice represents the blood of Jesus and His doctrine.(Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:7-22; and John 13:21-30). Fermented wine is false doctrine that makes people drunk spiritually and cant tell they are lost by believing false teachings and traditions. Rev 18:3 17:2 Try to give a drunk a bible study? Its impossible they cant comprehend truth. They need to sober up through the Holy Spirit and God’s word. Unfermented wine or grape juice is true biblical doctrine that doesn’t make you drunk but clear minded and its good for you. Matt 26:29 we will drink that in heaven. Jesus said I am the God of the living not the dead. Mark 12:27. Fermentation represents dying and death a rotting. Therefore it only makes sense with Jesus’s analogy of new wine or doctrine wont tolerate old wineskins that are use to the false teachings, they will burst. We need new wineskins to go with unfermented new wine or grape juice. We need to be born again and let go of popular beliefs and traditions and be sanctified through God’s truth, by His word and accept His unfermented grape juice without false doctrines in it. John 17:17 It is important what we eat drink and wear.1 Corinthians 10:31 1 Corinthians 3 and 6 clearly states we are not our own but bought with a eternal price. Therefore when we dress ourselves or eat or whatever we do we need to ask am I glorifying God? If your wearing a 4 inch mini skirt that you are battling every 5 minutes to keep down in church that has every married man getting whiplash and lusting I assure you that not only are you not glorifying God your being a stumbling block to fellow Christians and will be liable in the judgment.  1 Cor 8:9 Mark 9:42 2 Cor 6:3 So it is important what we wear and eat and drink but at the same time we shouldn’t walk up the lady wearing it and embarrass her or be rude and then lose her forever as a child of God. Matt 7:5 and Luke 6:42 clearly show us that. Matthew 18:15           “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 2 Timothy 4:2            
    preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction
    http://biblehub.com/ezekiel/3-18.htm“When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. http://biblehub.com/ezekiel/3-19.htm“Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.…So there is a balance or fine line we need God’s guidance on. We don’t want to do anything with out being led by the Holy Spirit and lots of prayer first. That way with meekness and fear taking heed that we don’t fall we can gain our brother and sister and yet not compromise with sin or evil. 1 Cor 10:12 God bless you and your ministry and thank you for all hard work.

  2. I grew up in an ethnic church where people wanted to do things like they did in the old country. Then someone would travel to the old country and see how different things were nowadays. The end result was to create a church relevant neither to its current culture or to the culture of the old country in the present day. We should build on the past, but it is only part of the foundation, not the whole structure. Old wineskins cannot hold new wine.

  3. George Bruno says:

    I’ll tell you what just jumped out at me…”learn from the past, but don’t be handcuffed by it” . I don’t want Egypt and the “security” it offered. Getting comfortable with uncertainty is a skill that people would benefit from. I’ll never forget Chuck Smith jokingly saying 35 years ago “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken”. It was humorous at the time, but sooooo true. Flexibilty (orthodox flexibility that is) is like a shock absorber for your life. No human being can just take all the punches, bumps, and potholes that you may encounter in life. Yes, there are some absolutes, and they are our anchor. But when it comes to worship style, music, dress, leadership styles, etc in church ….those that are the most flexible seem to be the happiest, easiest to get along with, and the least likely to get jammed up on minor issues. I would ask people to identify the metaphorical “Egypt” in their life and then ask them to identify the “promised land”. We don’t have a “Moses” anymore. We have God’s spirit leading us now. What is God asking us to step away from? What if God said to live by faith, which He does, and be comfortable with and maybe even embrace uncertainty? Good discussion as always Mark.

    • Thanks for the comment George. I like what you say about getting comfortable with uncertainty. Our society gives every indication of increasing fragmentation and uncertainty. We have to learn to respond.

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